Current interest in 20th-century British war art has seen the works of Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash and others fetching record prices in the salerooms. Though Ravilious (b.1903) spent less than two years as a war artist before his death in 1942 on an air-sea rescue mission off Iceland, this retrospective in the centenary of his birth is nevertheless being hosted by the Imperial War Museum (until 25 January). Considered by some to be among the great British watercolourists of the 20th century in addition to his notable work as a designer and wood engraver, Ravilious certainly deserves recognition beyond his war art (“Commander looking through a perperiscope” below). Having studied under Paul Nash at the Royal College of Art, he and Edward Bawden shared a house in Suffolk with their artist wives and in 1928-9 the two men worked together on the acclaimed murals for the Refreshment Room at Morley College, London, subsequently destroyed in the Blitz. By this time Ravilious was already making wood engravings under the influence of Nash, an activity which formed the basis of much of his commercial work in the 20s and 30s - his cover for Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack is still published annually. In the mid-1930s he turned to ceramics with immediate success, working for Wedgewood among others. With over 100 watercolours as well as examples of his work in other media this is the largest ever exhibition of Ravilious’s work.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Eric Ravilious: imagined realities'